These two guys were probably once pretty cool. Now they’re aging, and sit around till late at night on the porch talking about nothing, or about the past, or about the approaching eclipse of the moon that they may stay up all night to see. It’s all good, except when they break out of the Shepardesque to speak about their loss, their regrets, and the emotional make-up of their hollow lives. It’s at those points that Ages of the Moon, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre’s production of Sam Shepard’s new play at the Atlantic Theater, loses its cool. It’s when this play becomes “A Play” that it falls from an edgy portrait to a contrived drama, aging several decades of theater history as it falls. The good news is that this only happens toward the end of this highly competent execution of the script, with two delightful performances by Stephen Rea and Sean Mcginley. All of this demands the question - what was Shepard supposed to do, just let his characters keep talking about “minor blow jobs” and other such nothings for the entire 75 minutes of the play? In other words, how does a playwright avoid contrivances but still give his/her play substance? These questions are at the heart of the current theatrical moment in this city, and it is to his credit that Shepard does not veer away from recognizable content entirely, in an attempt to stay “cool,” as so many recent theatrical experiments here have done.
But perhaps Shepard has made it too glaringly obvious what his play is about – aging; coming closer to death as the world keeps turning and life keeps randomly ebbing and flowing around you. The characters are aging along with the playwright, and their stories are less about cars or hammers, and more about their own loneliness, the women they loved and lost, and their ongoing jealousies.
While the emotional revelations of the characters come across as tedious, director Jimmy Fay does make the most of their effects on the dynamic between the two. The strongest moment in the play, which is itself worth the price of admission, comes soon after such an outburst by Ames (Rea). After kicking his friend Byron (Mcglinley) out - whom he called in the middle of the night begging him to drive out to his cabin - he goes into the house and comes out to the porch a moment later with a rifle. The “finicky” ceiling fan that wouldn’t work ten minutes earlier is now inexplicably spinning in high speed. In a fury Ames aims (no pun intended) and fires. Sparks shoot out of the fan. He shoots again. This time the fan comes crashing to the ground smoking. Now there’s some awesome stage action.
As the night rolls on the stage gets darker, a nice touch by lighting designer Paul Keogan. Ames and Byron make up, accuse each other of weakness, drink more bourbon and finally descend into one more physical clash that leaves Byron with something resembling a heart attack. At last he reveals his ultimate secret - and his total loneliness in the world. Ames is too drunk and old to carry his friend to the car to take him to the hospital. So instead they watch the moon disappear, saying: “That,” - the earth that is, coming between the moon and the sun to bring darkness - “is us.”